The way the Dodgers roster is constructed right now, I don't think they have what it takes to make the playoffs. Below are five things that can go right for the Dodgers this season that can carry them to the playoffs. I'm not saying that they need all of this to happen, but two or three would be a big, big help.
The Dodgers prospects live up to the hype - The easiest, and by far the most productive thing the Dodgers can do is get their best players into the lineup. James Loney, Matt Kemp, Andy La Roche and Chad Billingsley are among the best players in and largely largely inferior players are blocking them. If these players do what they are supposed to do, then this alone can carry the Dodgers to the division title.
Brad Penny and Randy Wolf are healthy and productive - The Dodgers have three starting pitchers that are relative constants. Jason Schmidt and Derek Lowe will be pretty good, and Brett Tomko will be below average. Brad Penny and Randy Wolf are the wild cards. I've got nothing against Penny, his performance in the second half was a combination of bad luck, regression to the mean, and injury, but given how unstable he's been with the Dodgers, it's hard to call him a sure thing. Even so, I'm pretty confidant that Penny will have a good season. Wolf is another story.
Randy Wolf hasn't been healthy for three seasons, and he hasn't been above average for four. At this point, if I had to guess and ERA for Wolf this season, I'd say something in a 4.75, but I have no real clue. All I'm asking for is solid fourth starter type numbers from Wolf, no more, but there's no guarantee it will happen. There's a chance that Wolf could be really good, and there's a chance that he could be really bad. Wolf surviving the season as a productive player will go a long way to a Dodgers title.
Jeff Kent defies aging once again - While Jeff Kent had a very solid season last year for a second baseman, his .292/.385/.477 line represented his worst isolated power numbers since he became a full time player. With the Dodgers lack of power, Kent is the only guy on the team who has a real shot at hitting 20 home runs this year (assuming Betemit loses his job at some point this year). The Dodgers lineup needs the power threat that Kent was every year prior to 2006. Is this realistic? Probably not, people tend not tot have bounce back years at age 39, but it sure would help.
More importantly, Kent's defense at second base needs to move beyond "monument" level. While Kent's defense didn't seem much different than it was in prior years at the beginning of the season, he was near immobile by the end, finishing fourth to last amongst starters in zone rating. Despite this, Kent had a 110 rate2, which tells me he had an inordinate amount of balls hit directly at him. If the Dodgers aren't so lucky about this year, the team defense, which was already poor in 2006, could be even worse. If 2006 was somehow a fluke, Kent could be a huge asset to the Dodgers, if it was the beginning of the end, it could be a long season.
Takashi Saito, Jonathan Broxton, and someone form a dominant bullpen - The Dodgers bullpen wasn't all that effective in 2006, they finished 15th in baseball with a 4.12 ERA, but that number is a bit deceptive, since a lot of that came from the performance of the back end of the bullpen. The Dodgers finished 10th in WXRL, a stat gives more weight to performances in high leverage situations. If it weren't for Danys Baez's below replacement level performance, the Dodgers would have been one of the best teams in high leverage situations in baseball.
Getting the type of performance that the Dodgers got in 2006 from Takashi Saito and Jonathan Broxton could be key for the Dodgers in 2007. I don't think Saito could be counted on to do what he did last year, so Broxton is going to need to be just as good in 2007, and one or two more pitchers will need to step up. Fortunately, between Chad Billingsley, and minor leaguers Jonathan Meloan, Chin-Hui Tsao and Greg Miller, they could have several pitchers that are high above "middle reliever" level.
Juan Pierre hits .325 - The Dodgers offense in 2006 was built around the idea that there wasn't any holes in the lineup. Every regular except Wilson Betemit was able to put up an on base percentage above .360. By replacing J.D. Drew and Kenny Lofton with Luis Gonzalez and Juan Pierre, the Dodgers offense takes a massive blow, potentially more than would be expected thanks to the Dodgers roster construction. While Drew is impossible to replace, the Dodgers lineup can take a huge leap forward if Juan Pierre isn't dead weight. Having a guy that hits .290/.330/.388 at the top of the order is a great way to drag down the lineup. However, if Pierre can bring that average up to .325, he's suddenly hitting .325/.370/.400, and is an above average centerfielder. Since Pierre's game is based almost entirely on hitting `em where they ain't, it's entirely possible that luck can break Pierre's way this year and he becomes a productive player. While that doesn't solve the Luis Gonzalez for Drew conundrum, it does give a lineup that can't afford any holes one less dead spot.
And with that, I'm heading to Vegas, so I'm done until the regular season. I'll see you guys next Monday. While you're here, feel free to join the True Blue L.A. suicide pool so you can win free stuff.